WASHINGTON -- After 20 games last season, the Nationals stood at 14-6 and never really faltered from there, cruising to 98 victories and a division title. The early going hasn't been quite so smooth in 2013, but Washington will try to get things headed in the right direction on Wednesday afternoon, when it closes out its three-game series against the Cardinals.
The Nationals are 10-10 -- and own a minus-17 run differential -- at the 20-game mark following Tuesday's 2-0 loss. They will send ace Stephen Strasburg to the hill against Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia on Wednesday.
"Everybody, there's a lot of times I think they're trying to do too much," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "I think some of the pitchers are trying to do too much. Maybe it's from everybody picking us to be a candidate to win our division. Everybody's trying to be a little better than they need to be, instead of just relaxing and going out there and doing what you're capable of doing."
Despite some early inconsistency, Johnson said he isn't worried because, "I know the talent that's there and I know water seeks its level. We'll be fine. We just need to get going."
They will try to do so behind Strasburg (1-3, 2.96 ERA), who has lost three straight starts. In the past two, he has given up only two total earned runs and struck out 13 while walking three. But he also has topped 110 pitches in all three of those outings, despite not pitching into the seventh inning in any of them.
After Strasburg threw only 64 of his 111 pitches for strikes against the Mets last Friday, Johnson described him as, "missing all night, pitching behind hitters all night."
The Cardinals are 5-3 on their current road trip, which ends on Wednesday after stops in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. They can close it out with a series sweep of the Nationals.
"This is a really tough road trip," Allen Craig said. "We're playing some tough teams, and it's a long one. This is a tough place to play."
The Cardinals will turn to Garcia (1-1, 3.22 ERA), who is trying to bounce back from his first poor start of the year, last Friday at Philadelphia. The lefty gave up eight runs, four earned, on nine hits in three innings.
Perhaps it wasn't surprising in that the outing came away from Busch Stadium. In his career, Garcia's ERA is 4.49 on the road, compared with 2.45 at home. The split was even more pronounced last season.
Garcia did pitch well in outings at Nationals Park in 2010 and '11 but struggled there last Aug. 30, giving up six runs in 5 1/3 innings. His overall ERA in Washington is 4.32.
Cardinals: Adams likely to rest another day
Manager Mike Matheny said that first baseman Matt Adams, who is off to a scorching start in a part-time role, "most likely" won't play until Friday as he deals with right oblique tightness. The injury forced Adams to be scratched from Monday's lineup.
The Cardinals are off on Thursday before starting a six-game homestand on Friday against the Pirates.
"We'll continue to listen to what he's saying and how he's responding to the different treatments that they're giving him," Matheny said.
• Center fielder Jon Jay figures to be back in the lineup on Wednesday after sitting against lefty Ross Detwiler on Tuesday. Jay is hitting .197 with a .238 on-base percentage.
Nationals: Johnson not worried about LaRoche
First baseman Adam LaRoche is one of the Nationals struggling to get going at the plate this season. After a 0-for-4 game with four strikeouts on Tuesday, the veteran is hitting .172 with 22 strikeouts.
"I thought he's been swinging the bat good," Johnson said before Tuesday's game. "It just hasn't been falling."
LaRoche entered Tuesday with a .212 average on balls in play, nearly 100 points below his career mark.
• Closer Rafael Soriano was back with the Nationals on Tuesday after missing Monday's game following the birth of his son.
• Strasburg has faced the Cardinals only once, striking out nine over six scoreless innings last Sept. 2 at Nationals Park.
• This will be the Cardinals' 15th road game out of 21 total this year. They are 8-6 so far.